Syria ships out first chemical weapons
US welcomed the removal of chemical materials and said Assad's government is cooperative.
- Conflict in Syria
- Syrian civil war
- Syrian unrest
- Disarmament of Syria
- Syria rebels
- Syrian government
- Syria peace talks
- No end to Syria war
- Syria chemical weapons attack
- UN Syria report
- Syrian gas attack
- Syrias government
- The Syrian Observatory
- Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
- Syrian Organisation for Human Rights
BEIRUT - Syria has started moving chemical weapons materials out of the country in a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament programme that has been delayed by war and technical problems.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday that "priority chemical materials" were transported to the port of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel which was now sailing towards international waters.
Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States after a 21 August sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Damascus blames rebels for the attack.
War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues meant a 31 December deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria was missed.
The OPCW did not disclose what percentage of Syria's toxic arsenal, which totals 1,300 tonnes in all, had been removed but said nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials were on the Danish cargo vessel.
Maritime security was being provided by Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian ships.
Government forces have taken back control of the highway linking Damascus to the coast which is needed to transport the toxins. Rebel were ousted from three towns along the road but activists say convoys moving along it will remain vulnerable to rebel ambushes.
Washington welcomed the removal of chemical materials and said Assad's government appeared to be sticking to the deal.
On the battlefield, Syria's bloodiest bout of rebel infighting since the war started nearly three years ago prompted the head of an al Qaeda-linked rebel group to called for a ceasefire between opposition factions.
An audio recording from the leader of the powerful Nusra Front, known as Abu Mohammed al-Golani, laid much of the blame for the fighting on an al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
While both groups have roots in the global Islamist network and welcome foreign militants, the Nusra Front has cooperated more with other rebel groups and has largely avoided the power struggles that ISIL has faced since wresting control of many opposition-held areas from other groups.
ISIL has also been fighting in Iraq, where it faces an onslaught by army tanks and artillery around the city of Falluja, whose local leaders have urged the Qaeda-linked militants to leave before being attacked.
ISIL gunmen want to reconquer Iraq's Anbar province in pursuit of their goal of creating a radical Islamic state out of the chaos of neighbouring Syria's civil war.
More than 274 people have been killed in the rebel-on-rebel clashes in Syria since they began on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group.
Golani proposed forming an Islamic legal council to resolve feuds among the rebels and called for the militants to return to their shared goal of fighting Assad's forces, as the campaign to oust the Syrian leader nears the end of its third year.
Rebel groups, many of them also hardline Islamists, last week launched what appeared to be a series of coordinated strikes against ISIL in northern and eastern Syria after months of increasing tensions with the group, which has alienated many Syrians in rebel-held regions.
In one northwestern region of Syria alone, other rebel groups appear to have killed 34 foreign fighters from ISIL, the Observatory said.
Fighting reignited between ISIL and other groups on Tuesday, the Observatory said. Fifteen died in the town of Rastan, north of the central city of Homs, and in Aleppo rebels took control of a police station where about 100 ISIL fighters had been based. The ISIL fighters surrendered themselves and their weapons to the Nusra Front, it said.
The campaign to topple Assad has degenerated into a civil war with several sectarian and ethnic struggles emerging, as well as the internecine fighting now plaguing the rebels.
TALKS DECISION DEFERRED
Syria's Western-backed opposition in exile postponed until next week a decision on whether to attend talks with Assad's government aimed at ending the conflict, opposition members said on Tuesday.
The National Coalition is facing heavy pressure from Western powers to attend the 22 January talks in Switzerland, seen as the most serious effort yet to find a political solution to the civil war.
It has said it is ready to attend the talks in principle, but says they must lead to Assad's departure - a demand which Damascus has flatly rejected - and has repeatedly stalled on its final decision.
The latest delay came after at least a quarter of the coalition called for its newly re-elected president Ahmad al-Jarba to stand down at a meeting in Turkey and threatened to resign if their demand was not met, sources at the meeting said.